By Daniel H. Boggs. November 2011, revised April 2012
In the fall of 2010 I was sent a pdf copy of an anonymous manuscript containing an unorthodox version of the Dungeons and Dragons rules. The owner hoped I would be able to identify its age and authorship after reading several posts I had written on the early history of the D&D. This article explores the relationship of the “item in question” as the owner called the manuscript, to the development of our favorite game.
Key Words: Dungeons & Dragons; Fantasy Role Playing Games Development
The “Item in Question”
In the course of researching the origins of the Dungeons and Dragons game, I wrote many webposts on forums of interest to early roleplaying game enthusiasts. One of these caught the attention of the person who currently possesses the manuscript in question. I have only a pdf copy, but I’m given to understand that the “item” itself is not an original, but rather a very old photocopy with a few pages clearly missing, including one page of spell descriptions and what were probably the last few pages, if those were ever typed in the first place.
The manuscript was, until the early 1990’s in the possession of M.A.R. Barker, the author of Empire of the Petal Throne and a friend and gaming companion of Dave Arneson. Dr. Barker does not remember how he came by the manuscript. In fact, he intended to throw it and a lot of other old gaming material into the trash to make room in his garage. The present owner of the manuscript was helping him clear the garage and asked if he could keep some of the papers intended for the trash, thus acquiring the manuscript.
When inquiries with Barker proved fruitless, the owner contacted Dave Arneson and sent him scans of a few of the pages. The suspicion that Arneson might have been the anonymous author was based, among other things, on the heavy use of percentiles in the work, something Arneson was known to favor, having made percentile dice the operating feature of his Adventures in Fantasy game. At the time, Arneson was an instructor at Full Sail University in Florida. He responded that the manuscript looked like it could be one of his, from the time when he had been mailing revisions back and forth to Gary Gygax, his much more widely known D&D co-author. However, Arneson said he would need to see the whole thing to be sure one way or the other and that he would have to get together with the owner next time he was back in Minnesota. Unfortunately, that never happened and Mr. Arneson passed away in April of 2009.
While this seemed to be tentative confirmation of authorship, the whole thing was cast into serious doubt when the owner took the manuscript to a deeply involved Aceaum™ collector for his opinion. The collector shared the scans and information with a few key TSR employees who passed the scans on to Gary Gygax. Gygax replied "took a look, seems to be a rip-off of the D&D game that I've never seen before." (22) None of them, recognized the manuscript. The owner was told flatly that it was just a house rule document of the sort that many people made in the mid 1970’s, dismissing the idea that it had any particular significance. Such documents were made, usually by cash strapped college students with access to a campus typewriter, to avoid the rather expensive costs of purchasing the D&D booklets.23, 24
Thus, years later, the owner came to me, in the hopes that I might be able to resolve the matter one way or the other.
Let’s begin then with what we think we know about the creation of Dungeons and Dragons as it was published in 1974. Keeping details to a minimum, here is what we are told:
Manuscript A) Rob Kuntz tells us that in November of 1972 Gygax received a 16 page typewritten manuscript of D&D rules from Arneson which Kuntz read. 18 Gygax earlier reported 18 handwritten pages, and an article by David Kushner mentions Xeroxed notes.11, 14 In what I believe is the earliest print reference, July of 1975, or just over 2 years after receiving Manuscript A, Gygax reports 20 handwritten pages.10
Manuscript B) Gygax reported in several interviews that within a matter of weeks he had expanded Manuscript A to 50 typewritten pages. This initial manuscript was mailed to “a couple of dozen ” 8, 14, 20, 25 International Wargames Federation members for commentary and playtesting. It is virtually certain Arneson had a copy of this. (Note: in his 1977 Dragon article, Gygax claimed this first expansion was “100 Typewritten pages” the revised number he gave later of 50 pages seems much more plausible and fitting to known fact.) 11
Correspondence) Arneson tells us that in addition to many long phone conversations, he mailed documents to Gygax.1, 3, 7, 19 Although largely silent on the matter, Gygax did acknowledge correspondence in his book Role-Playing Mastery “Dave and I were corresponding and exchanging ideas, and a new game took shape.”13 Additional confirmation comes from Michael Mornard, who was present both in the Lake Geneva and Minneapolis gaming groups during the period, stated that Arneson and Gygax sent “chunks of working manuscript to each other BEFORE publication.”21 It is clear from certain content in Arneson’s First Fantasy Campaign booklet and the presence of several pieces of Arneson’s art in the D&D 1st print that such correspondence did take place.
Manuscript C) Gygax tells us that he next expanded the 50 page manuscript to “150 pages” in the spring of 1973. 8, 14, 20, 23, 25 However, in the 1977 article mentioned above Gygax again doubles this figure to 300 typewritten pages. Three hundred pages is three or more times the size of the published booklets, but, there is reason to believe this article contains a few exaggerations, with this being one of them. Gygax commented repeatedly over a number of years that the text of the first printed edition of Dungeons and Dragons was “essentially” 8, 14, 20, 23, 25 Manuscript C. Assuming this is accurate – and there’s no reason to doubt it - we can work out the approximate length of the typewritten text of Manuscript C. The first printing of Dungeons and Dragons occurred in three separate 6”x9” booklets. The 3LBB’s as they are often abbreviated, are indeed about 150 booklet sized pages in total. Several fans in recent years have taken the entire text of the original print of D&D and placed it into word processor documents. This, minus the art, yields around 85 typewritten pages (8.5” by 11”); the exact count depending on the size of tables etc. So either the published version actually had less content than the typewritten playtest version or Gygax misremembered the page count of Manuscript C, perhaps thinking of the page count of the published booklets instead. There is no hint that Manuscript C contained 50+ pages of missing material, and such seems extremely unlikely. We can be fairly confident then that Manuscript C ran 80 – 100 pages at most. Interestingly, in Gygax’s July of 1975 letter to A&E he seems to confirm this, stating he “expanded and changed [Arneson’s] 20 or so pages of hand-written "rules" into about 100 ms. pages.“10
Gygax also claimed Manuscript C was written with virtually no “solid rules” input from Arneson.20, 23 For this to be literally true, all of the correspondence material discussed above would have to have already been incorporated into Manuscript B. Given that both Gygax and Kuntz18 have pegged Manuscript B’s creation to a period of a few weeks, and given the content of the known correspondence material in the FFC, it is highly unlikely that Manuscript B was the end of Arnesons input. It is virtually certain that Manuscript C saw the incorporation of additional correspondence material, such as that found in First Fantasy Campaign. However, Gygax’s comment is important, because, as we shall see, Manuscript C does contain sections – most notably the aerial and naval rules – which may possibly derive from Gygax alone and which appear to make up a substantial portion of Manuscript C. Perhaps even more importantly, depending on what he meant by “solid rules” it may be taken as a kind of confirmation that Gygax never received a complete manuscript from Arneson.
Hopefully, in the future we will be able to identify the exact contents of Manuscript B and C with certainty. A copy of one of these manuscripts by Gygax is rumored to exist and was sold to a private collector at a Gencon. I have never seen it, but hope the historical value will convince the owner to make a copy available for study.
“…the rules suffered from the fact that they were hastily put together, in fact my final draft version was never used because of various deadlines that had been set.” Different Worlds #3 June/July 1979, P.7.3
Arneson claims to have prepared a revised manuscript which did not become a part of the 1st print (the Three Little Brown Books of D&D). It is unclear whether Gygax ever saw this manuscript, but the implication of Arnesons’s comment is that it was completed or virtually so, but not quite in time for it to be either used instead of, or incorporated into Gygax’s manuscript C for the initial print run.
1st print ) Around late January of 1974 Gygax has 1000 copies of the game he calls Dungeons and Dragons published.20 This 1st print is organized into three separate booklets – Men and Magic, Monsters and Treasure, and Underworld and Wilderness Adventures. The three little brown books are put into a woodgrain box and put up for sale. In subsequent printings the woodgrain box was replaced with the now famous white box, but the text undergoes only relatively minor revisions. Arneson is discontent with the 1st print1 and, according to Gygax, “complains bitterly” 11 that publication occurred too soon, allowing no opportunity for his revisions.
One might well ask, why Gygax didn’t work more closely with his co-author on the 1st print run. There have been several explanations and quite probably were a number of contributing incentives, however one need only consider that late in the fall of 1973, Gygax and partner Don Kaye received a large cash investment from the Blume family. 8, 23 The influx of cash made possible the printing of D&D, and no doubt the Blumes were promised a return on investment, putting Gygax under some pressure to create product relatively quickly.
In any case, the publication of what was essentially Gygax’ Manuscript C, led to some contention between the two authors. Gygax claimed later that “Dave Arneson never did furnish any solid rules for me to use in devising a new game” so Gygax “devised and wrote the whole of the work that became the Dungeons & Dragons game.”20 Whereas Arneson claimed “…we collaborated, I would guess, for almost three years, bouncing ideas back and forth, distributing ideas – it was very much a collaborative effort.” 24 (see also 19) Although the length of time he gives is apparently twice as long as it really was, Arneson’s claim has been shown to have some merit, because draft versions of the sections covering castle construction, wilderness encounters and evasion, and magic swords section found in 1st print D&D, were later included by Arneson in his collection of campaign notes published by Judges Guild in 1977 as The First Fantasy Campaign (FFC). The Magic Swords Matrix section appearing in FFC, is a particularly strong example. It is very clearly Arnesons draft, used and reworked by Gygax for the magic swords section of the 1st print.15 For a quick example compare the FFC (77:68)2:
“Minions that are directed to take up the Sword whose origins are different than that of the directing party and are not acting as free agents (i.e. they are under the player's power), will suffer damage at half the normal rates. In special cases (see Special Table), players may not suffer damage. may be forced to change sides, may be freed from any spells they are under, may lose or gain powers."
To the D&D 1st print (M&T 74:27)16 :
“If a non-player character is directed to take up a sword the damage will be only one-half that stated above, for the party is not acting as a free agent. Additionally, the sword might cause the one who took it up to be freed from a spell, change alignment, or otherwise gain powers which would remove them from the service of their former master."
Numerous additional clues make it clear that the FFC text predates the 1st print, and that the 1st print is a revision of the FFC text. This FFC Swords document is meant to be part of an existing set of rules, but the rules referred to are not as developed as those we know from 1st print D&D. One example, Clerics are called Curates and they are assumed to have less than 5 fourth level spells - there being 6 such spells present in the 1st print. Thus we can establish the FFC must be an expansion of a version prior to Manuscript C, which, being essentially the same as the 1st print, would have already contained both the familiar D&D magic swords and additional Cleric spells. Manuscript B then is in all probability the one being expanded, and this is of interest because it tells us Manuscript B had less spells.
So, that is the known history of the creation of Dungeons and Dragons, and that brings us to the mysterious manuscript in question. Where, if at all, does this thing fit in the manuscript history presented above? No dates or names of authors are given anywhere on it. There is a title page – but it doesn’t say Dungeons and Dragons or The Fantasy Game. The title of the Manuscript is “BEYOND THIS POINT BE DRAGONS”
QUESTION 1: ESTABLISHING AUTHORSHIP
Our first vital clue is the artwork present in the Manuscript:
The Art surprised me. Firstly because I wasn’t expecting any in a typewritten draft, and secondly because it was fairly good, particularly when judged against the art found in the 1974 published rule booklets.
This tells me a few things:
1) This was probably someone’s final, or near final revision – you don’t go to the trouble of illustrating a rough draft.
2) As such, it does not appear to be early “correspondence” material between Gygax and Arneson, but rather something being prepared for general use and distribution.
3) It makes it questionable whether Gygax ever saw it, because if he had access to these illustrations, why were none of them used in the published booklets or later works? The1st print artwork is usually no better, and often much worse than the art in BEYOND THIS POINT BE DRAGONS.
4) It gives us a solid clue to who the author is. I must point out that I am neither a handwriting or drawing expert, but it doesn’t take an expert to see clear similarities. Art is of course the more difficult of the two to judge, and full pictures cannot be legally reproduced here without permission. Instead I will focus on the handwriting found on the illustrations. Below are several examples comparing the writing on maps and drawings found in BTPBD and Dave Arnesons’ FFC. The FFC illustrations in the 1977 print are known beyond doubt to be drawn and labeled by Arneson who also provided some illustrations used in the 1st print.
Notice in particular, the consistent styling of H,R,S, C and D
Similarly, with numbers:
The comparison leaves little doubt that Dave Arneson worked on the illustrations of BTPBD, and while that’s very suggestive, it does not prove Arneson authored the text, so we will move on to a closer look at the writing.
In the next post we will look at language style.
Please consider becoming a patron of Champions of ZED, the RPG that brings the together the scattered strands of the original game:http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/280000504/champions-of-zed-zero-edition-dungeoneering
(1) Anonymous (staff)
1979 An Interview with Dave Arneson. In The Space Gamer #21 (January/February) 1979:5-7. Metagaming Concepts.
(2) Arneson, Dave
1977 The First Fantasy Campaign. Judges Guild.
(3) Arneson, Dave
1979 My Life and Roleplaying 3. In Different Worlds 3 (June/July) 1979:6-10. Chaosium, Inc.
(4) Arneson, David
1999 Review of Reliving the Civil War: A Reenactor's Handbook. In Civil War Book Reviews [Website]. Louisiana State University. Retrieved from http://www.cwbr.com/index.php?q=2083&field=ID&browse=yes&record=full&searching=yes&S ubmit=Search
(5) Arneson, David
2008 Reply to Topic: Was Arneson's Blackmoor Classless? In OD&D Discussion [Website]. Retrieved from http://odd74.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=blackmoor&action=display&thread=697
(6) Arneson, David L. and Richard Snider
1979 Adventures in Fantasy. Excalibre Games, Inc.
(7) Bub, Andrew
2002 Dave Arneson Interview. GameSpy [Website]. Retrieved from http://archive.gamespy.com/articles/august02/gencon/arneson/
(8) De Bie, Tanja
1998 Gary Gygax: The Man in Legend. The RPG Consortium [Website]. Retrieved from http://www.rpgconsortium.com/articles/article.cfm?id=320
(9) Gyax, Gary
1975 WHAT’S GOING ON HERE?. In The Strategic Review, Vol 1, No. 3, 1975. TSR Inc.
(10) Gygax, Gary
1975 Letter to the Editor. In Alarums & Excursions #2, July.
(11) Gygax, Gary
1977 Origins of the Game. In Dragon 7:7-8, June 1977. TSR Inc.
(12) Gyax, Gary
1979 Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide. TSR Inc.
(13) Gygax, Gary
1987 Role-Playing Mastery. Perigee Book. published by The Putnam Publishing Group.
(14) Gygax, Gary
2002 Q&A with Gary Gygax. Enworld [website]. Posts #131, 5th September 2002, 11:23 AM. Retrieved from http://www.enworld.org/forum/archive-threads/22566-q-gary-gygax-part-i- 9.html
(15) Gygax, Gary and Dave Arneson
1974 Dungeons and Dragons: Volume I Men and Magic. TSR Inc.
(16) Gygax, Gary and Dave Arneson
1974 Dungeons and Dragons: Volume lI Monsters and Treasure. TSR Inc.
(17) Gygax, Gary and Dave Arneson
1974 Dungeons and Dragons: Volume III Underworld and Wilderness Adventure. TSR Inc.
(18) Kuntz, Robert.
2009 Castle El Raja Key, Small Partial of the Introductory, Historical Essay. (2009, December 14). Lord of the Green Dragons [Weblog]. Retrieved from http://lordofthegreendragons.blogspot.com/2009/12/castle-el-raja-key-small-partial-of.html
(19) Kushner, David
2008 Dungeon Master: The Life and Legacy of Gary Gygax. In Wired Magazine(2008, March 10). Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/gaming/virtualworlds/news/2008/03/ff_gygax?currentPage=all
2001 Interview with Gary Gygax, part 1 of 3. (2001, May 1) RPGnet [Website]. Retrieved from http://www.rpg.net/news+reviews/columns/lynch01may01.html
(21) Mornard, Michael
2012 How to Address this Slight. ODD74 [webforum]. Retrieved from http://odd74.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=general&action=display&thread=6812&page=2
(22) Private Correspondence quoted with permission.
(23) Sacco, Ciro Alessandro.
2002 The Ultimate Interview with Gary Gygax. (reposted 2005, August 11) The Kyngdoms [Website]. Retrieved from http://www.thekyngdoms.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=37
(24) Sloan, Sam
2008 Interview with "Dungeons & Dragons" co-creator Dave Arneson (2008, March 8) Slice of SciFi #151[Podcast]. Retrieved from http://www.sliceofscifi.com/2008/03/08/slice-of-scifi-151/
(25) Wiemholt, Michael
2001 Weem Interviews Gary Gygax (2001) Part 1 of 2. (reposted 2010, August 23). The Weem [Website]. Retrieved from http://www.theweem.com/2010/08/23/weem-interviews-gary- gygax-2001-part-1-of-2/